Leading Directors Set Standards for Flexible Working in the UK

A survey of nearly 800 Institute of Directors (IoD) members highlights a changing work environment as the UK continues to adopt flexible and home working. The survey, commissioned by Avaya benchmarks the home working habits and practises of the UK’s business leaders and provides evidence of their lingering concerns over the productivity of workers when not physically present in the office. Based on these results, Avaya has proposed ten tips to help businesses address this issue and maximise productivity. At the forefront, Avaya recommends integrating effective communication practises into every aspect of the workplace, whether at home or in the office.

The results clearly show that the UK has embraced flexible working since the launch of the government’s flexible working regulations in 2003, with 98 per cent of IoD members working from home on a regular basis. To complement this, 76 per cent have flexible working policies at their workplace, providing further evidence that it is firmly established on the business agenda. Employers have good reason to support flexible working, with 67 per cent of executives citing increased productivity as their main reason for working from home. Employees are clearly set-up for maximising their productivity from home, with 84 per cent working from a dedicated office or study area and 94 per cent able to access corporate email.

Also, the survey uncovers distinct challenges that UK businesses need to overcome before reaping the full benefits of flexible working. For home workers, a frequently debated issue is trust, and 62 per cent of respondents identify corporate culture as the biggest barrier to flexible working. Another top issue is the provision of technology, and more than 40 per cent of the directors surveyed are not able to access their company’s corporate network or phone directory.

Stuart Logan, HR Director for Avaya in the UK, Ireland and Southern Africa says, “A definite challenge still exists in the UK as flexible working can only deliver and flourish in an environment of trust, with agreed outcomes and performance measures.

Employers have a responsibility to educate their workforce on how best to communicate, to ensure that best practice is followed and communication doesn’t become a blockage. Also, to maximise productivity, employees need to be able to recreate the office environment when working from home”.

Professor Jim Norton, Senior Policy Advisor, from the Institute of Directors said: “This research study undertaken by the IoD and Avaya helps to highlight the opportunities and challenges that today’s home and flexible workers currently face. By researching best practice from within our membership, we are able to offer an effective blueprint on how to maximise both employee satisfaction and efficiency, driving a substantial return on investment.”

Simon Perry, a partner at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, frequently works remotely from his home and client offices. He comments, “In our business, flexible-working practices have improved productivity and people are trusted to manage their own time to meet client needs. I’m away from our office in the Channel Islands over two days per week, so the ability to work from anywhere can save me a huge amount of time. Over the last decade we’ve seen improvements to working practises and technology, which enables people to be constantly in touch with their diaries, clients, teams and information sources. Today people are working different hours to meet client needs, making flexible working attractive to both employers and employees.”

Avaya’s survey unearthed key differences in working patterns across the UK. Workers in northern England have the strongest appetite for flexible working; many want to work from home more frequently (Yorkshire at 63 per cent, north east at 60 per cent, and the north west at 45 per cent). In reality, the north east has the lowest levels of flexibility in the UK, with workers only tending to work from home between two to five times per month.

Workers across all other regions spend a significant proportion of their time working from home, with over 50 per cent home working over 6 times per month.

Despite this high frequency, home workers want to keep in close contact with the office. When asked what could improve their home working experience, 32 per cent said they wanted more communication with people in the office or at other locations. Similarly, 54 per cent of respondents actually do not want to work from home more than they already do.

Other Survey Findings:

• 61 per cent of all respondents like to dress down and wear casual/jeans when working from home and 1 per cent confessed to frequently wearing pyjamas.
• Contrary to London’s ‘suited and booted’ reputation, 55 per cent of these urbanites wear jeans/casual clothes while working from home and only 19 per cent would dress up for an important conference call.
• 38 per cent of IoD members surveyed believe we are ahead of Europe in terms of flexible working to drive competitiveness, while only 20 per cent think we are ahead of the US
• Most workers opt to work from home near the weekend, with 81 per cent home working on Mondays and 86 per cent on Fridays.
• 29 per cent of respondents say their top reason for working at home is the long distance to the office, yet 51 per cent of those surveyed live within 20 miles of the office.
• Demonstrating the ultimate example of flexible working, one respondent confessed to having occasionally worked in the bathroom.

Communiquette – Top Ten Tips for Businesses & Employees Wishing To Get The Most from Flexible Working

1. Trust is a critical factor in working from home, it must be earned but just because you can’t see someone doesn’t mean they aren’t working
2. This can be strengthened by agreeing performance and productivity measures that relate to specific outcomes, lessening the need to be constantly in contact with your direct reports. These should be constantly measured and reviewed
3. Create and enforce a policy that identifies how best to communicate with your colleagues when working with them in the office, at home or on the road
4. Having a dedicated work space at home is vital, as this enables employees to focus their work
5. Where possible, employers should provide all the technology and business tools needed to make employees as effective when working from home as they are when in the office – corporate network, email and phone directory are good examples of this
6. Educate employees on the most effective ways to use technology and enhance productivity
7. Share knowledge and resources to promote best practice – develop templates and ensure all employees are fully updated on the latest policies and working procedures
8. Encourage employees to target activities to be carried out in an ‘uninterrupted’ environment e.g. reading, writing or planning
9. Utilise Instant Messaging technology to have real time contact with team members to improve responsiveness and customer service
10. Regular feedback from managers to employees of their work performance, and raise any concerns about factors connected to working from home